In memory of Darrin Adams
I taught him social theory. I remember teaching the class about Marx and his concept of alienation. When I asked if anyone in the class could relate, it was silent, but then he raised his hand.
He told the class he worked as a janitor on campus. He talked about the way his job was organized and how it created distance from his work, from the students for whom he cleaned after, and from those with whom he worked. After he talked about his alienation, hands went up across the room as others were inspired to talk about their jobs and alienation.
This was not my first class with Darrin, but the previous one was online. It was such a pleasure to see how his personality added to our classroom and how his thirst for knowledge and sharing was contagious. I am forever thankful for having the experience of teaching and learning with Darrin.
After class, we would often walk together to where we had parked our cars, which was the street without meters behind the building that he worked in as a janitor. On those walks, we would talk about social theory, about his struggles and things in general. It feels so devastating to see the burdens of inequality that stacked against him and finally took him from us. He was black, working-class, and grew up in a poor under-resourced city in the United States. As a result, he had a different health trajectory, one that gave him poor odds, even before Covid-19 emerged. He also had higher risks, he worked a job with more potential exposure to the virus as compared to those who are safely tucked behind a desk somewhere.
This loss also feels even more devastating because he was someone who took at the punches and rolled with them. When I talked with Darrin, I never got a sense of anger or indignation, only a sense that he had a thirst for knowledge, a love of life, and a desire to have agency in his own life. However, this attitude was not fueled by ignorance. I remember I had to review the midterm with the class. There was one question that most that was particularly bothersome to me.
I had assigned the students to read an excerpt from The Concept of Race by W.E.B. DuBois. In those pages, he traces his own biographic experiences with race, through his family and education, and used it to develop his theory and concept of race. Based on this piece, I asked a question about Dubois's concept of race. Only two students answered it correctly, Darrin was one. I asked him to explain. His answer displayed the depth of understanding, demonstrating not only an eloquent grasp of Dubois' theory but also wisdom from his own position in society.
I like to think that he and Dubois took a similar approach to life. He didn't let hate or indignation engulf him nor did he allow despair to immobilize him. Instead, he took the knowledge and soared. He was pursuing his education and working to educate others. He was striving to learn from what he confronted. Through his interactions with others, like me, he spread his joy, understanding, and desire to engage in humanity's struggles with dignity.
I try to keep this in mind as I wrestle with the fact that our unequal and unjust system stacked the odds against Darrin. I will try not to fill with anger or indifference, not to forget what he has helped keep alive, both in and outside of the classroom, which is: our humanity towards one another, our passion to understand and to make our world better, really matters, many times in ways we do not know.
Comments from classmates
"Darrin was a bright student. He is someone you wouldn't forget. He made the class more enjoyable with his great personality. Darrin will be missed. RIP Darrin Adams."
"I still am at a loss for words about Darrin. It is crazy how one minute he is sitting in front of me in class and the next minute he is gone. He was definitely an amazing person. My heart goes out to him and his family/friends. It is truly heartbreaking. RIP Darrin Adams... you will be missed by so many people."
"Hello, I was devastated by Darrin's passing. He was right behind me and we had some fun debates during the course. We even coordinated the questions he would ask of our group when we were presenting so we wouldn't be blindsided [lol]."
"I also was shocked and saddened by Darrin's passing. We had a class together before but living on, and working on campus, you easily become acquainted with people you share spaces with. Darrin was always very kind, willing to learn and asking questions that I didn't have the courage to ask. I hope everyone is safe."
"I am also shocked by the passing of Darrin. I never got to really talk or get to know him but he was quite the character and had an amazing personality. I hope his family and friends can find some peace through all of this." "I thought someone may find comfort from this- not my writing.... this is by a Detroiter named Austin Channing Brown, "On Holy Saturday I'm making space for my grief. So many people I miss. People my prayers didn't save. Making space for the things I lost, things I wasn't prepared to let go of. Things I hoped would return. I'm making space for disappointment and anger and fear during a pandemic. I'm not conjuring up hope or cursing the darkness. I'm acknowledging the ways hope has broken my heart. So many consecutive days feel like Holy Saturday right now. Here I am in all of my humanity'' -Austin Channing Brown
"Darrin was definitely the funniest guy in the room. May he rest in peace and I am sending prayers out to Darrin and his family and everyone affected by this tragic situation."
"I was shocked to hear about the passing of Darrin. He was such a bright light in class. He always knew how to make everyone smile. He will be deeply missed by many people."
"It was such a tragedy to lose Darrin, he was so kind and had such a wonderful personality that definitely brought joy to everyone in the room. My prayers are with him and his family, as well as everyone in the class."
"I was so sad to hear about Darrin. I remember his funny personality in class and how he always managed to brighten the room. He will never be forgotten and I hope his friends and family find peace. RIP Darrin!"
"I'm very sorry to Darrin's family for their loss. I'm saddened that this has taken so many lives. Darrin always kept a big smile, he was nice, and he kept the class laughing, and I am happy that we were able to experience those memories with him. I am keeping his family in my prayers."
"I would like to send condolences out to my group member Darrin, he was a good soul, a funny guy but knew his material, just a good guy to be around with. Being in group B he would call me and discuss the work, always trying to encourage me to do better, I was really devastated when I found out that he passed, literally took the breath away from me, this whole situation has become depressing, I am still not over his loss. We really lost a good person – rest in heaven Darrin Adams you will be missed."
"It was awful when I found out about Darrin's passing. I sat behind him a lot in class, he had a great sense of humor. He'll be missed."
"Darrin will be greatly missed RIP to an uplifting person."
"Darrin sat in front of me in this course and was also my classmate in Social Inequality last semester, which was also taught by Dr. Swider. His ideas, humor, and perspectives on our class material truly made coming to lecture a far brighter experience than it would have been without his presence. I'm grateful to have crossed paths with him, and I know even just through our limited interactions that he profoundly touched the lives of those close to him."
"It's insane to hear about Darrin's passing. He somehow made everyone in the room crack up while providing extremely thoughtful insight about each reading we were discussing, and I'll always remember him for that."
"Darrin was in Group B with me, and his death has truly broken my heart. He was always checking up on me to make sure I understood the course material and he always motivated me to want to do better. Every Monday he would make me show him my race from the weekend (I'm on the track team). I am very sad that I only knew him for a short time but I am grateful for every moment I got to spend with him."
"I was in another class with Darrin before this one and he and I were able to converse about the material in both classes. He was an amazing student and he definitely brought a bright light into the class by making people smile and laugh with his humor. He is deeply missed and my heart goes out to his family and friends."
"I would just like to say that Darrin was a great person and a very funny guy and made the class flow much easier and he also eased up the awkward tension in the class. He will be dearly missed."
"RIP to Darrin. My thoughts are with his family and friends. I worked with him while I was a student assistant at the Student Center and he was a custodian there. Always very friendly, kind, and funny. Saw it even more whenever we would present the CMAs. I really appreciated his personality and good spirit."